Blazers not worried about their opponents
The Trail Blazers' win streak is at 12 games after Saturday night's 100-87 victory over Detroit at Moda Center, and they'll go for a baker's dozen Sunday night when they visit Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers (37-31) are in ninth place in the NBA Western Conference, a game and a half behind eighth-place New Orleans but only two games out of fifth.
"It's going to be a dogfight," Portland forward Ed Davis said as he prepared to board the team plane for LAX. "It's a big game for us and definitely a huge game for them. It's the second of a back-to-back (games) for us. They have rest on their side, but we'll be ready.
"Really, it's all about us. If we play well, we're going to win. We're not really worried about the opponents right now."
That's the mood among the players these days. The Blazers (43-26) are third in the West, two games ahead of No. 4 Oklahoma City (42-29). They not only have the league's longest win streak, they believe they are the best team at this point of the season.
"To be honest, we're really not worried about who plays for the Clippers," center Jusuf Nurkic said. "We're worried about us. We'll have a game plan (Sunday). Like every game, we need to get the next one. But we're not worried about the Clippers."
Damian Lillard is the ultimate voice of the Portland locker room, and he endorses such thoughts.
"During this entire run, a lot of the things we've done have been about us," the Blazers' team captain said. "We're communicating, being on a string defensively, locking into the scouting report, trusting each other on offense and making (opponents) have to work to stop us.
"Those are things we control. If we do those things well, we've been on the winning end a lot. If we do those things again tomorrow, which I think we will, we should be able to get another win."
Coach Terry Stotts was asked if the pressure has mounted on his players through a streak that began with a victory over Golden State on Feb. 14. Portland's last loss was 101-82 against Utah at home on Feb. 11, five weeks ago.
"Not in our situation, because of the standings and how close the race is," Stotts said. "If this were in November or December, and (the Blazers were on) a streak? Maybe. But the emphasis on winning games and maintaining our position in the standings is paramount. So it's not that big of a deal right now."
It actually is. Portland hasn't been on a tear like this for more than a decade, dating to December 2007, when Nate McMillan was head coach, second-year pros Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were the leaders and the Blazers ripped off 13 in a row.
"We got (No.) 12 tonight, and nobody even knows," said Nurkic, which isn't quite true, either.
Detroit (30-39) has lost eight of 10 overall and 15 of its last 16 road outings. So it was no great surprise the Blazers rolled to a somewhat comfortable victory despite making only 8 of 31 3-point attempts and errant shooting by Lillard (6 for 19 overall, 3 for 10 from 3-point range).
Stan Van Gundy — who begged for a technical foul all night and finally got one late in the game — would liked to have gotten what he considered an even break from the officials. The Detroit coach felt the Blazers played dirty at the defensive end.
"They held and grabbed on every play and they got away with fouls all over the place," Van Gundy said. "We got absolutely screwed all night. It's a big part of their defense. They play very hard. I don't mean to take anything away from them. But when you get away with playing like that and (the opponent) gets screwed that badly by the officials, your defense is going to be pretty good."
Van Gundy was asked if the referees offered an explanation.
"Yeah, it was, 'If I saw it, I would have caught it,'" he said. "Well, you know your damn job is to see it. I love that. It's like an excuse. Why the hell do we have you go out there? It's embarrassing to them and it's embarrassing for the league that they're not going to make that call."
The Blazers led 31-20 after one quarter, 60-45 at the half and 80-63 after three quarters. Detroit made a belated run, drawing to within 91-84 with 3:51 left. Portland scored the next five points and the Pistons would get no closer.
The Pistons might have made it more interesting had they shot better than .388 from the field. Stotts chose to give his side the credit for that.
"Our defense was solid all night, other than (the Pistons) getting some open 3's from time to time," he said. "I thought the 3-point line was going to be a big factor tonight. We moved the ball really well, took care of it for the most part, and we had a lot of good looks (from the 3-point line). That's the important thing. If we're getting good (looks at) 3's, the guys who didn't make them tonight will normally make them.
"(The victory) is a credit to our defense. Our offense was OK; our defense put us in position to win the game."
Lillard, who led the way with 24 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and a career-high three blocked shots, likes everything about the Blazers' current skein.
"It's perfect timing," he said. "Every game counts, but we have so many teams on our heels fighting for spots, it's coming at a great time. We're closing it out strong. Everybody is on the same page.
NOTES — Andre Drummond scored 18 points and grabbed 22 rebounds for the Pistons. ... The Blazers' longest win streak was 16 games in March and April of 1991. ... It's status quo on the birth of Lillard's first child, Damian Jr. Girlfriend Kay'la Hanson is expecting on Monday. ... The Blazers have signed 7-1, 240-pound Georgios Papagiannis for the rest of the season. The Greek center played last season for Sacramento and recently signed a 10-day contract with Portland after the Kings waived him at the trade deadline. "He has a very good shooting touch," Stotts said. "He can affect shots around the basket. Great attitude, and he's only 20. He's an interesting player." Expect Papagiannis to be a member of Portland's entry to the Las Vegas Summer League.
Though he did not get into Saturday's game, former Oregon State forward Eric Moreland has been part of Detroit's regular rotation most of the season, averaging 1.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game. The 6-10 power forward, who played for Craig Robinson at OSU from 2010-14, had averaged 6.3 rebounds over his previous eight games with the Pistons after signing a three-year, $5.5 million contract before the season. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes of a win over Milwaukee on Feb. 28. Moreland, 26, played only 11 games with Sacramento his first two NBA seasons (2014-15 and 2015-16) due to shoulder and foot injuries and spent last season with Reno of the G-League. "Eric has been great for us," Van Gundy said. "You're talking about a guy from the G-League on a minimum contract — what he has contributed has been incredible. We've gotten a lot of mileage out of Eric. He's a hard-playing guy who brings a lot of energy. We've been really happy with him. We went into the year thinking he was a roster guy waiting for injuries. And then (Jon) Leuer got hurt, Eric got a chance to play and he has made the most of it."
"I've just tried to come in and bring energy as I've done since my days at Oregon State," Moreland said. "It's been good to get a chance to show my talents." What has made the difference for Moreland this season besides good health? "My (basketball) IQ," he said. "The game has slowed down for me. That comes with experience. I got to watch a lot with the Kings and soaked a lot of stuff in." Moreland still follows Beaver basketball. "We didn't have the kind of year I expected," he said. "It reminded me of a couple of years we had when I was there — a lot of close games we didn't pull out. I'm sure Coach (Wayne) Tinkle will get them right. I didn't get to play for him, but I've met him and saw a couple of games. They get after it. They have a lot of guys back. I'm sure they'll be better next year."